Schools in the Bonny Eagle School District (MSAD #6) have begun taking steps to ensure that underage students are not accessing age-inappropriate material in the school library without parental consent.
Earlier this year, parents and community members from the district directly challenged the presence of six books in the middle and high school libraries due to their explicit and mature content.
One book — Juliet Takes a Breath — was present in the library at both Bonny Eagle Middle School (BEMS) and Bonny Eagle High School (BEHS).
In addition to Juliet Takes a Breath, the high school library has five other controversial titles, including: Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, Lucky, The Art of Racing in the Rain, Choke, and Boy Toy.
After concerns were raised regarding these titles, Bonny Eagle principals took action.
At BEMS, principal Jim Hand took steps to have Juliet Takes a Breath removed from library shelves prior to the start of this school year.
The principal of BEHS Greg Applestein took a two-pronged approach to addressing the issue — some of the books flagged by parents and community members were removed from the school library entirely, while others were placed into a separate collection with restricted access.
Initially, the school district planned to place the restricted book onto a shelf that could only be accessed by students over the age of 17 or those who otherwise had express parental permission to do so.
Julie Anderson — former MSAD6 School Board Member — told the Maine Wire that the group of parents and community members at the heart of the challenge did not agree with the creation of the 17-plus shelf, so they continued to push for an alternative solution.
Superintendent Clay Gleason told the group in mid-September that after communicating with the school librarians, he believed that a specific 17-plus section “might be difficult to manage,” according to Anderson.
Therefore, Gleason said, if the school district ultimately decided to go the route of placing the books into a separate section, “it should be in our professional library, which already exists in both BEMS and BEHS.”
“The professional library is for staff or other adults and could include 18 year old students, and students under the age of 18 with specific parental written permission,” Gleason stated.
Applestein went on to remove Choke and Boy Toy from the BEHS library entirely and place Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, Lucky, The Art of Racing in the Rain, and Juliet Takes a Breath into the professional collection.
According to Anderson, those who flagged these titles felt that they should be removed from the school library entirely, but “were temporarily satisfied with at least getting them off the shelves for 14-17 year olds.”
“Let’s not forget, these books were deemed inappropriate by school administration and while we are pleased that these 3 books were completely removed, we are only temporarily satisfied with the other books going on an 18-plus bookshelf,” Anderson told the Maine Wire. “We still believe the 4 books (along with many others) don’t belong in a taxpayer funded, public school library.”
In May of this year, the Superintendent stated during a school board meeting that a “comprehensive review” of the libraries would take place. More recently, the Superintendent mentioned at another board meeting that “the middle school library shut down at the end of last year for the review.”
Last Spring, the Superintendent and school board were provided a list of 300 books on the shelves at the BEMS library that were rated as appropriate for either high schoolers or adults.
According to Anderson, Gleason said in a recent email that the middle school librarian conducted “the most thorough review,” using the list of 300 books as a “starting point.”
“With my permission she closed the library for a period of time before school was out and used the list of 300 books as a starting point for reviewing and weeding out the collection,” Gleason wrote. “At all levels, librarians did some work on making sure the books listed on the card catalog matched what was actually on the shelves since this had become an issue with a few books.”
Gleason also noted that the library at BEMS was the “primary focus” of their efforts due to the “age and developmental range of middle school students.”
“The elementary librarians moved some books to the middle school and the middle school moved some to the high school as part of this process,” Gleason said.
Anderson then shared with the Maine Wire that she, along with other community members and parents, have requested that all of the listed books either be aged-up in the library system or removed from the collection entirely. They also asked when a comprehensive review of the high school’s collection would be taking place.
Separately, Anderson noted that they have asked the Superintendent “how parents will be notified about these books and will parents be made aware that they need to opt their minor children (17 and under) in to have access” to the books held in the professional library that have been determined to contain explicit or otherwise potentially age-inappropriate content.
According to Anderson, they are still awaiting a response from Gleason concerning all of these requests and inquiries.
Conversations surrounding the inclusion of books containing explicit content in the BEHS library have been ongoing for quite some time now.
Around this same time last year, the district was embroiled in a discussion over the presence of Gender Queer — a sexually-explicit graphic novel — in the BEHS library.
After a public comment period on the matter lasting more than an hour, the school board ultimately voted to keep the book on the BEHS library shelves.
Although debates across the country over the titles kept in school libraries have come to encompass an extensive number of books, Gender Queer has been one of the most hotly-contested inclusions in school libraries nationwide due primarily to its extremely graphic sexual content.
In late September, a concerned parent from MSAD #51 brought a poster board containing excerpts of Gender Queer to a town council meeting and was immediately told to lower it because the images depicted were too “inappropriate” for a public forum.
Shortly after the Bonny Eagle School District decided to keep Gender Queer on its shelves, officials also made the call to exclude Irreversible Damage: The Transgender Craze Seducing Our Daughters from the library’s catalog.
Written by an award-winning journalist, the non-fiction book explores the recent uptick in the number of young females identifying as transgender.
The BEHS library decided to exclude the book from its catalog on account of the fact that it is advertised as being intended for an adult audience.
Unlike many other titles that are frequently a cause for concern in these debates, Irreversible Damage does not contain explicit images or descriptions.
BEHS is not the only school in Maine to have acted upon the concerns of parents and other members of the community regarding explicit and age-inappropriate content in school libraries.
At the start of this school year, Hermon High School asked parents to decide whether or not to allow their children to access school library books that have been flagged as containing explicit or mature content.
Out of 564 students, 466 were granted full access to the school’s library, while 45 were prohibited by their parents from accessing the restricted content.
No students were barred from utilizing the library in its entirety, and a number of permission slips were not returned to the school.
Through collaboration with the public, Hermon officials compiled a list of 81 titles that were deemed to contain content not suitable for consumption by high school students who had not received express parental permission.
56% of Hermon residents indicated support for a policy governing the availability of explicit content to students in the Hermon school system on a survey distributed earlier this year.
Requiring parental consent for underage students to access potentially age-inappropriate materials from the school library is a relatively new policy solution in Maine, so it still remains to be seen how widespread the approach will become going forward.